Carrie Chapman Catt

Radio Address - August 26, 1925

Carrie Chapman Catt
August 26, 1925— New York City
Print friendly

Five years ago today the women of the United States, one and all, became voters. Through the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, the process prescribed by the Federal constitution was completed and from the status of political nonentities women were promoted to that of responsible citizens. From that moment women, equally with men, became accountable for all action of our government, local, state and nation. They became equal arbiters of all political policies, problems and propaganda - inescapably equal creators of the destiny of a great nation. For five years women have been legal voters, but there have, as yet, been only four elections and in most states only two general elections. Yet there are many who, in somewhat dictatorial tones, are demanding an accounting. "What have you women achieved?" they ask, and answer "You have only doubled the vote." "What good has woman suffrage wrought? None, it has changed nothing." "Women are losing their womanliness, children are unguarded and men 'reduced' to an equality with women" are fast losing their masculine virility. In fact, the country is started "to the dogs" and now that women have the vote, nothing can stay its arrival at that dire destiny."

Well, women of America, what say we? The first achievement of woman suffrage is one no anti suffragist can comprehend. The enfranchisement of women freed the minds and the energies of thousands of women for other tasks. No reactionary can ever understand the moral urge which transforms an ordinary citizen into a crusader who can neither rest nor pause until his ideal is achieved. That urge had made hundreds of women clear their lives of all impediments to continual action. They were minute women on perpetual duty. Behind them were thousands who served much but not all the time, and behind those were millions who served some. Had all the leaders and most consecrated workers in 1920 been packed into a great ship and dumped at sea, it would have checked the movement a bit, but another staff of leaders and workers would have emerged shortly and the movement would have gone forward at full swing. Had shipload after shipload been sunk at sea, the process would have been repeated for the obligation rested upon the women as a whole and the urge would have borne them on to the end, whatever the date. We, and all the millions who would have taken our places had there been delay, are mustered out of that service, liberated from a daily driving task. For us, this is the first and the most cheerful fact to celebrate.

What have we women suffragists, freed from our former task, done with our time and energies these past five years? Apparently the non-observer has not noticed, but we still "carry on". When a cause, great or small, is caught out of the clouds and crystalized into law, it never follows that the minority who have opposed it are either convinced or satisfied. Those people continue to say that all the things they predicted are true. They continue to hate the cause and those who espoused it. Most politicians were reluctant converts to woman suffrage and returned to their former attitude of resistence. More, people have a way of thinking in "water tight compartments", and granting the vote did not mean to many an old time party leader that women would have, in consequence, a say about nominations, party policies or platforms, and he "stands pat" to see that they confine their political liberty to voting the ticket and platform which has been picked out by a few of the party elect in a hotel bedroom. This is no more acceptable to the women of spirit and intelligence than it is to the man similarly equipped. Liberated from one struggle, a large number of women find themselves brought in conflict with the same opponents as before who now prevent the normal operation of woman suffrage.

If there is any reason for discouragement because women voters in two general elections have not proved sufficiently omnipotent to move the affairs of this nation forward a quarter of a century, it may be found in this fact. The minority, stubbornly unconvertible, resisting, obstructing, is still here. Most of these men and women will never change their minds. They can’t. There is nothing exceptional in this fact, it has been true of all movements. The cause must wait for its real test till majority and minority pass on. Those who come after accept an established fact as such, the resistance gradually disappears and cooperation to make the cause an effective factor in civilization comes. Meantime, the chief business of all progressive women is to carry forward education for equal rights and opportunities in politics, in industry, in social reform, in the church, in business, in education, in the arts and the sciences. That we are now in this second stage and our education going strong, is the second reason for rejoicing today. But there are gratifying, concrete results already.

Women who are a credit to our claims are serving in high places. As legislators, Congresswomen, judges, administration officials and chiefs of important bureaus, Federal and State. Election Day has been literally transformed in most states by the presence of women as election officials and voters. The insistence by long headed women that party platform pledges shall be kept is in a satisfactory stage of agitation. Corrupt or incompetent rings or cliques here and there have been broken up, sometimes by the initiative and always by the aid of women. Nowhere has any unexpected obstacle appeared and everywhere resistence is receding. There has been no change in woman, none in man - both have merely acquired a different and a fairer, less biased viewpoint toward life and its problems. We women should be very happy to live in this period when we are privileged to see the spirit of all things grow more smiling toward us. There is nothing in sight to worry about.

Meanwhile, let us work toward the fulfillment of those old ideals, yet not forget that time is passing and that we are now accountable. Let us overlook the criticisms, doubts and worries of the unconverted trusting to time to take care of them and let us do the duty of this day.

I pray you, women of America, look backward over the ages and observe the status of your sex. Once, without a question, women were the equals of men, but while mankind was yet in a primitive stage, women were gradually reduced to a subjection and tutelage from which they very painfully struggled up to the present. They were robbed of property, wages, inheritance, education, freedom of thought or speech and rights over their children. What wrought this tragic change? War. If you are unfamiliar with that long, curious and brutal history, I commend its study to you and I predict that you will find it the most amazing and engaging revelation of your lifetime. What kept women in a continual state of subjection century after century? War. What was the most potent argument the opposition advanced against the liberation of women? That war would always be, and that women could not fight and therefore must not vote. For a few months after the close of the Great War, the spirit of generosity, usual at such moments, was in control and under its influence the women of half the world were enfranchised. Then the door closed and a state of pessimism, disorder, conflicting opinions, frayed tempers, nervous anxiety, possessed the world. Not much movement forward can be forced during such a time and it will last for years, gradually tapering off into normality. These are symptoms of after war psychology as unfailing as a rash with the measles. It is no wonder that human character and human institutions have evolved so slowly. Progress is periodically estopped first by war and then by the reaction of the peace that follows.

Just now the cost of living is higher than at any time in our history. Taxes are higher than this nation has ever paid. "Terrifying crime" is more prevalent than it has ever been and over and under it all is a nervous sense of premonition of something dreadful about to befall us. These are super-conditions which must be borne in addition to all the burdens that normally come to a people. They are merely the normal and the inevitable aftermath of war. It is not good sense, therefore, to attack first of all the cause of causes of distress instead of attempting to treat the effects. Get rid of war and progress will eventually proceed to amble onward without a continual shout of whoa from the warmakers. We may even dream that in time men and women will obey the ten commandments by instinct and live up to the Sermon on the Mount.

How can war be abolished? The way will not be easy, but when the brain reserve of the world puts itself to the task it can and will be done. A minority now all the world around believe it can be done and are determined that it shall be done. Another and probably a larger minority is as certain that it can never be accomplished and is determined to block every effort of the other minority. Between the two stand the great majority, thinking, heeding, caring nothing except for the episodes of daily life. In which of the three groups are you standing? I have enlisted in the smaller minority. I want to stand up and be counted there. Some day that minority will be the big majority. Already the movement has attained that virility, that certainty of being right, that unconquerable spirit, that marks all movements scheduled to win. The day of triumph may be afar off; the struggle may be harsh; another way may intervene. Yet for better or worse, for whatever may come, men md women have enlisted as minute men ready on call for any duty, just as we women were five years ago. Suppose, after an absence, you returned to your home to find it had been raided by burglars, the contents of your bureau drawers and trunks and ice box dumped upon the floors and an open­water faucet rapidly reducing the whole to a hopeless ruin. What would you do first? All but the feeble minded would turn off the faucet as the first step toward order. War is an open faucet dumping upon the work tables of the world's citizens continual new and ever more disturbing tasks. Why not turn it off and save ourselves all that extra work? That is good, hard, common sense, isn't it?

How shall we proceed? That happens to be an easy question at this particular moment. Let your two senators know that you and your societies, communities, churches and friends want this country to become a member of the World Court. It will come up for discussion in the United States Senate December 17th.

There are six chief reasons why I am for the World Court.

  1. It is obviously the easiest step at this moment to permanent peace because the President and platforms of both political parties are for it. Most of the press and almost all important organizations have endorsed it. Surely we may say that the most important of these is the National Bar Association. When great lawyers agree upon an idea within their sphere of activity there cannot be much that is wrong with it. All the forces in the country in which I have most confidence are for the Court and so I join with them.

  2. I am for the Court because it is almost a replica of an institution with which we are all acquainted and whose value as an influence for the peaceful settlement of disputes we all know - the Supreme Court of the United states.

  3. It is an American idea. Nearly a century ago such a Court was proposed by Americans in Europe as a machinery for the prevention of war and the agitation in its behalf has been unceasing. A World Court has been the hope of our presidents and our parties for the past twenty-five years. It is now an established fact with forty-eight nation members. Why are we not in it then? Solely because it was finally set up by the League of Nations instead of the United States. Did you ever know man or woman, boy or girl, to start something and then withdraw in sulks when someone else took the lead away? That you thought about that person is what nations, great and small, are thinking about us. Are we not moral minded enough to come out of the sulks? Those who are affrighted by the connection of Court to League have no cause for anxiety other than their own overwrought imaginations, because the Hughes, Harding-Coolidge reservations disconnect the Court from the League so far as this nation is concerned.

  4. This nation, without membership in the Court, may, if it chooses, avail itself of its services and bring a case before it, but there is something humiliatingly pusillanimous in the richest nation on earth accepting benefits by charity while forty-eight poorer ones pay the bill for keeping up the Court. I do not approve of charity for rich beggars.

  5. The only harm the World Court could possibly do would be to give an occasional wrong decision. As it is certain to be composed of the very best legal minds in the world, this is not likely to happen, but even so, the good it will achieve cannot fail to be enormous. There it will stand through coming centuries, a conservative institution which invites by its existence and world confidence, all the peoples of earth to strip their troubles of hate, spite and suspicion and had over the bare cause of disagreement to this court of calm minded, learned, impartial, great men. Surely in loose terms, the secret of the way to perennial peace must be in the substitution of Courts for battlefields as arbiters of dispute. In time, the habit of going to court instead of to war will be established. Let us start the habit.

  6. The world has reason to fear that this nation intends to hold itself aloof from the efforts to arrive at a means for establishing permanent peace. A membership in the World Court would establish confidence that we mean to help not hinder. Do you recall that when Pershing arrived with those first troops in Paris, he visited the grave of Lafayette and placing a wreath upon it, he said, while an audience waited for a speech, "Lafayette, we are here." Do you remember how those simple words "rang around the world" heartening the Allies? The burdens of sixty odd war­weary nations will be lightened when Uncle Sam says: Men and women, we've joined too.

Let me repeat my reasons for the World Court:

  1. Membership is an easy first step toward peace.

  2. It is an institution with which we are acquainted.

  3. The World Court is an American idea and proposal.

  4. The richest nation in the world should help pay the bills of this first real World Court.

  5. It will contribute enormously toward world peace.

  6. It will give evidence to the world that this nation means to cooperate with other nations to gain peace.

Let us turn off the faucet of war, spilling its filth and sickness over our political work tables, women of America, and as you turn, thank God every minute that you have the ballot to use as wrench if the turning is hard.

PDF version at Manuscript housed at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.